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August 15, 2013, my misery began. It was supposed to be the perfect day. I had just been promoted to leader of my practice, and it was my daughter’s first day of high school. I began my morning routine as usual—eat breakfast, get ready, and wake up Liza. My daughter came down the stairs excited as if she had just won the lottery. She was ready to grow up, but was I ready for her to?
“Today’s the big day, Liza. I can’t believe my little girl is all grown up,” I told her as I embraced her in my arms.
“I know Dad! It feels like just yesterday I entered into middle school, and now, I’m already in high school!”
“Soon enough you’ll be in college, and then, you’ll get married, while I sit in this house as I become old and lonely without my favorite little girl running up and down these halls.”
“Oh! I’ve got a long way, Dad. Don’t worry, and besides, I’ll always be your little girl no matter what. Well, I better go now. I’ll walk there. It’s only a—“
“No, no, no! Let me take you.”
“It’s fine. I’ll walk.”
“What? Are you too old for me to take you?”
“Fine, Dad, but I’ll walk home after school.”
After leaving her at school, I rushed over to the office. It wasn’t a particularly difficult day, but it did have its flaws. As usual I had complaining, generous, even psychotic patients. I had paperwork and other jobs to handle. Although it was a busy day, it was still pretty enjoyable until I received a call at 4:14 from the hospital.
“Dr. Walton, could you please come to the ER. Your daughter has been in an accident.”
Almost immediately, I grabbed my keys and raced down to the hospital. Upon entering the Emergency Room, I found a nurse, who informed me that Liza was in the Operating Room, Tears swelled in my eyes as I faced this traumatic horror.
About a half-hour later, a doctor walked out and came over to talk to me.
“Dr. Walton?” he asked.
“Yes, what happened?” I replied.
“Liza has suffered major wounds to her abdomen and legs. We were able to operate on the internal bleeding in her abdomen and stitch up the wounds in her legs, but she will need to be watched as she did lose a lot of blood. We have not clarified exactly what may have caused these injuries; however, the police received a call from a young lady saying she found Liza unconscious on the floor of an alleyway. She claimed that she heard screaming, and when she went to check it out, she found Liza alone drenched in blood, looking as though someone had attacked her. The police are trying to figure out the source of these injuries.”
“Thank you, doctor. May I see her?”
“As of right now, Liza is stable and asleep, so I will take you in to see her.”
The doctor led me to Liza’s room. Solemnly, I walked over to Liza and slowly stroked her hair. She was still sleeping. I waited for about an hour when she finally opened her eyes.
“Dad?” She said in a hushed voice.
‘”Liza? You’re awake. Oh, tell me, tell everything that happened.”
“Not now, Dad. I’m really tired.”
“Sorry, honey, it’s okay.”
“So, how was work?”
I started crying again.
“Please stop, Dad. I can’t stand to see you cry. I’m okay. Please, stop,” Liza pleaded.
We talked for another hour. She slowly started gaining her energy back. I brought up the question again.
“So, what happened?” I asked.
“I don’t remember everything, but I do know that I was walking home, and then, I went down the alley between the apartment buildings when two men approached me. I said hi and continued walking. Then, one of them grabbed my arm and pulled me back. They started hitting me and screaming and torturing me. They said something like, ‘Tell your dear papa, I ain’t lettin’ him free nomore!’ I don’t remember anything else he said. I don’t know why they attacked me, Dad. I had never seen them before! What’s going on?”
Tears filled her eyes. She was frightened “It’s okay, it’s okay. We’ll be okay. You’ll be alright. What did they look like?”
“They were both white. One was taller than the other. They looked about your age, Dad,” she said while taking struggled breaths. Her crying looked as though it was starting to wear her out.
“Calm down, Liza. Save your breath. You don’t want to be too worn out.”
“I can’t Dad! Today was supposed to be perfect, and it’s a disaster!”
“Liza, Liza! Listen! You’ll be okay. I’m right here. Just take a second and breathe. Do you remember any names?”
“There was one. Jeremiah Taylor.”
At the sound of his name, I gasped. It couldn’t be Jeremiah. He was the reason I moved to the North. I could slowly feel the anger and adrenaline building up inside my body. As I tried to calm myself, I bent down, kissed Liza on the forehead, and promised that I would return. I left the hospital in a state of fury. Jeremiah would pay for this. I had to find him. I thought this issue between us was over. I knew he moved into my neighborhood a month ago, but I never cared until now. I stormed straight up to the door of his house.
“Hello, Jeremiah, it’s been a long time,” I said in the most serene voice I could form.
“I know, bud! Ain’t it been a while?”
“So how are you?”
“So… are you having fun attacking my daughter?”
Right then, he threw his hand on the door, ready to slam it in my face. I caught the door just before it closed.
“Jeremiah! This issue is between you and me. We settle it between each other. Why bring my daughter into this? Why?!”
“You took what was most precious to me, so I took what is to you!”
Suddenly, he slammed the door—this time successfully—and I slowly walked away. I was still confused by his statement. What had I taken? I went back to the hospital. As I was walking, I realized the cause of his frustration—Sara Marie. It had to be her.
I arrived at the hospital again. Liza was awake when I arrived.
“Hey Dad. Where’d you go?”
“Just to run an errand.”
“Dad? Do you know why they attacked me? It seemed that you knew when I mentioned Jeremiah.”
“I didn’t know what to tell her. Should I tell her? I guess she deserved to know.
“Here, let me tell you a story about Jeremiah and me. We go a long way back.”
“Tell me. I want to know, Dad.”
“Well, we were very young when our conflicts began. I remember I was about nine, and he was probably ten. He was with the rest of his guys while I sat on this beautiful bench that he had claimed for himself. He was white, so at that time in the South anything a white guy claimed, a black guy was not allowed to touch. He looked at me and started to approach me. I acted as though I didn’t notice although inside, I felt like my insides were boiling. When he finally reached me, he whipped his hand upward knocking my book out of my hand and yelled. This hadn’t been the first time I sat on that bench. I remember word for word what he told me, ‘I done told you a hundred times boy. No black kid can just come aroun’ and take my stuff!’ he yelled at me. I was so angry, so without even thinking, I told him that he couldn’t tell me what I could or couldn’t do ‘I can tell you want I wanna tell you,’ he said back to me. That’s when I saw her—the one girl in Jeremiah’s group who understood me. We’d talked before, but no one knew because she was too worried. Her name—Sara Marie Foster.”
“Wait! You mean Mom?” Liza interrupted.
“Yeah, Mom. Anyway, she barged in between Jeremiah and me saying, ‘Leave him alone, Jeremiah. He ain’t hurtin’ you, is he? You weren’t usin’ the bench. If he wants to sit and read, leave him be.’ Jeremiah was furious. He didn’t like that she was supporting me. The next thing she said somehow inspired me. ‘What’s gotten into me is some sense!’ Jeremiah caved from hearing this. From that day on he left that bench alone. He loved Sara Marie. They had been dating forever. She liked his good side, but his bad side was considered inexcusable for her. After that incident, Jeremiah let me have the bench. I remember sitting on that bench watching the thousands of pine trees sway with the wind. I remember feeling that summer breeze brushing across my skin. Summer in the South was always so beautiful. There was a particular day that I remember so vividly. I was then thirteen years old. It was near fall, and the leaves on the trees were beginning to change color. I was sitting on the bench when Sara Marie came up to me. We hadn’t talked in years since the incident. She was the first to talk when she said ‘Long time, Elijah. I remember this bench. I think you’re the only person who’s ever been able to successfully take something from Jeremiah and still be livin’.’ I told her that she should be giving credit to herself. She was, after all, the person who helped me. We talked for a long time. I actually fell in love with her right then, and I couldn’t stop thinking about her. After a few months of sitting together on that bench, she must’ve fallen in love with me, too. Jeremiah eventually found out, and he was furious. He attacked me one day, which made Sara Marie feel even less connected to her former lover. I almost died then. That’s when I told her that we should move to the North. We left the next day. We took her brother’s car that he let us have, and we ran away. We were good friends, and he trusted me with her. I never knew Sara Marie meant so much to Jeremiah. I truly did love her though. We made it to the North successfully. I stayed with my aunt until I was old enough to live on my own. I married Sara Marie and had you and my life was perfect.”
“Dad, that’s beautiful. At least now I know why they attacked me,” Liza said.
“Trust me, it won’t happen again.”
Having repeated the story, my level of fury began to rise again. Immediately, I got up and rushed out. It was near dusk when I reached Jeremiah’s house. I don’t know what happened to me, but I felt this rage rushing through every artery, vein, and bone in my body. I blacked out from the anger for maybe an hour only to wake up to the horrid site of Jeremiah on the floor next to me dead and my hands covered in blood. I almost screamed. I ran to the nearest bathroom to wash my hands. I grabbed my stuff and ran out the door back to my house. There, I pulled out a suitcase, filled it with whatever clothes I could find. I found my tooth brush and picked it up. All this time, I was nearly sobbing. I was freaking out. I had no clue what to do. I was slowly losing touch with myself. I put on a hoodie, covered my head, and got in to my car. I headed to the airport. I didn’t know where I was headed, but one thing was for sure—I was getting out of the North. If there’s one thing I learned about the North, it was that news traveled fast. Before I reached the airport, I stopped by my best friend’s house.
“Hey, Elianna, I did something terrible,” I said when she opened the door.
“Elijah, what did you do?”
I walked in and sat down on the couch.
“I can’t say. It’s too awful.”
Tears started rushing down my cheeks
“Elijah. Trust me, it’ll all be okay, whatever you did I’m—“
“No! It won’t be okay Elianna!”
“Elijah! Tell me then what happened! Only then I can help you!”
I could hear the fury in her voice as I was reluctant to reveal the disastrous news. My eyes were burning from the tears that just wouldn’t stop. I finally managed the four unspeakable words.
“I killed a man…”
“What?! Oh my gosh, Elijah! What did you do? No! It can’t be true. Tell me it isn’t true! Tell me! Elijah, look me in the eyes, and tell me it isn’t true, Elijah!”
I couldn’t manage to make my eyes meet hers.
“It is true.”
Now she was crying, embracing me in her arms.
“Why? Why would you do that?” she asked as she released me.
“I…I don’t know. I don’t know what happened to me! I was…I was… I was walking to his house, and from then, I don’t remember anything that happened. I just…just woke up with blood all over my hands and Jeremiah dead beside me.”
“Wait? Jeremiah? Is he the one who attacked Liza? Is he—“
“Oh no! Liza! What will she think? Oh! She’ll hate me! Elianna! She can’t know! Elianna, can you watch her for me? Maybe keep her with you? Please?”
“Elijah? What am I supposed to do when she starts asking where you are?”
“Tell her I’m on a business trip, and I will probably take a few months before I’ll be home.”
“What is the police find out? What is she hears it on the news?”
“Don’t let her hear the news? Don’t let her go to school. Take her to work with you. Anyway, the doctor isn’t going to let her back in school for a while with her condition. Oh Elianna, I have to go!”
“Wait! Elijah, where are you going?”
“Somewhere… somewhere far from here! Thanks for taking care of Liza! Bye, Elianna.”
With that, I rushed out the door, Elianna calling behind me. I got into the car and hurried to the airport. The news had not found out yet, but just in case, I kept my hood on. I received tickets off to the one place I knew I could stay hidden for awhile.
The plane arrived at 10:15 at night. I was back home in South Carolina. When I stepped one foot out the door, I was greeted with a sudden gust of air. I remembered that autumn breeze—filled with so much humidity you’d break a sweat almost instantly. I headed straight to my old house, which was now abandoned, I presumed. When I stepped on the terrible lawn, I was suddenly engulfed by the millions of childhood memories. My nostalgia began to overwhelm me. I slowly walked inside noticing how awful it all looked. The stairs were old and rusty. The windows were smashed out. Some of the floorboards had been pulled up. I turned to the right only to witness more disgust. The chairs had lost their legs. The sofa had stuffing everywhere. Cockroaches were crawling everywhere. The walls had holes in them. The whole place looked as though a hurricane struck it. After all, it had been thirty-two years since I’d been home. I went into my bed. I didn’t care about the condition it was in. Whatever happened to me in the night, I deserved after the horrible sin I committed.
Morning came. I arose to the sounds of the birds that always chirped around our houses. Instead of waking to cars honking, I’d at least been able to enjoy the sweet, soft sounds of these innocent little creatures. I walked outside and found the nearest barber. I had to change my look. I had him shave all my hair off. I didn’t know what else to do, so I decided that my bald head would have to suffice. I walked back home. It was the most beautiful stroll I had ever had. The pine trees still swayed with the wind. The maple trees were standing tall and magnificent. The birds were still chirping away their melodic little tunes. Pedestrians were waving hello every time I pass by them; it was all truly amazing. Before I escaped down there, I withdrew a lot of money. I secured it under my bed in hope no one would find it. With the money, I bought a radio to know when the news would reach the South. I bought a new temporary phone and crushed my old one. I only had two contacts—Elianna and Liza. Elianna called me constantly to keep me up to date with the news up North. Currently, I was all over the news. Elianna had taken off of work to watch Liza. I hadn’t talked to Liza, but I knew she would find out eventually.
Along with the phone, I bought some cleaning supplies and some building materials to work on fixing my house. I worked everyday sealing down floorboards, washing the floors, changing out the legs on the chairs. I’d made quite an improvement when I heard it.
“Man found dead in his bedroom. It was a clear murder. Current suspect: Elijah Walton former doctor, now missing,” the radio announced.
My heart almost stopped. No one here knew my name, but it was only a matter of time. I decided to clear my mind and take another walk. Walks had become a portion of my daily routine. I wanted to enjoy what little time was left. People around town were talking about the murder. I chose not to make it too obvious, so I continued my walks. On one autumn day, I saw it. The bench. It was magnificent. It looked in perfect condition. It was still a hard rock bench with designs engraved along the handles. I gradually approached it, sat on it, and closed my eyes reminiscing in the days when I sat here with Sara Marie. I remember her beautiful brunette hair as it whipped through the wind. I remember her quiet little laugh. As petite as she looked though, she could be feisty. She was exceptional. She was the love of my life. Tears were slowly slipping down my cheeks. Everything surrounding me reminded me of her; the changing of the leaves, the smell of the pine trees, the clovers that we used to gaze at, searching for a lucky one, the kudzu running all up and down the trees, and the birds. Oh, the birds. She used to sing with them. Her sweet and lovely voice always made me smile. She would pick out every bird she could find. She would sing a little song, and they would reply. She would dance, and twirl and laugh. I laid my head back against the bench. I breathed in and out. I sat up straight and opened my eyes. Two police cars were parked in front of me, lights flashing, guns pointed. I raised my hands. I was ready. I deserved this. Liza was safe. That’s all that mattered. I didn’t run. I didn’t hide. I surrendered. Although I will never forgive myself for what I did, I knew in my heart it was for Liza and Sara Marie.
As a policeman was placing handcuffs on me, he asked, “Sir? One question: Why did you give in so easily? Why did you let yourself get caught?”
One word. That was all that was needed.
“Love, officer. Pure love.”